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4 UX techniques that make Pokémon Go addictive

Published on Monday, 8th August 2016, contributed by The Real Adventure Unlimited

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or in some tall grass, you will probably have heard about the new augmented reality gaming app that’s taking the world by storm, Pokémon Go.

The aim of the game is simple; collect over 133 Pokémon by walking around a virtual map, which uses your phone’s location. When you stumble across a Pokémon, you can catch it by throwing a Poké Ball at it in augmented reality. The higher the combat power, the harder they are to catch. You can interact with two types of points on the map; PokéStops to collect freebie Poké Balls and other goodies, and gyms, where you can battle your strongest Pokémon against other teams.

It’s already broken the record for first week downloads on the Apple App Store, has more daily active users than Twitter, and a higher usage time than Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat and Messenger! The app uses some key UX techniques, which makes it utterly addictive and so explosively successful.

The 4 techniques: Gotta catch 'em all...

1. Unpredictability keeps people searching

The core of the game is that it is almost unpredictable; that little rustling of grass nearby, a fellow Pokémon hunter putting a lure (a special item which attracts Pokémon) on a nearby PokéStop, the increase of paw prints when you might be nearby – it’s calculated randomisation. You’re not sure if you’re going to find anything when you’re playing, but you know that the odds increase the longer you play, or the more you walk around. Dopamine release is triggered by the feeling of success, which keeps you hooked, and keeps you hunting.

2. People are motivated by progress, mastery and control

The ability to better your existing Pokémon and become a master is a very powerful motivator – you’ve already invested time and effort, why pull out now? The most prominent way the game gets us hooked on this is through gym battling and ownership. They are the ultimate proof of hard work in the game by allowing only a few of the best to enjoy the centre stage, when players unite in one of three teams to gain ownership or battle for control of a local gym.

3. Doing things together bonds people together

When a large group of people do a task in sync, it creates a bond among them. For example, 300 people running across Central Park for that rare Gyrados Pokémon, even ignoring Justin Bieber in the process! When in close proximity with people doing the exact same thing with a common goal, it causes our mirror neurons to work overtime. This produces a burst of dopamine, which is a chemical in the brain that controls the ‘pleasure’ systems and makes you feel enjoyment. It’s also responsible for making us curious and hunt out new information.

It’s no surprise that the app has naturally started to form its own community, which our very own The Real Adventure Unlimited executive planner, Taylor Davies, spoke about:

So one lunch time when I walked to town, I cut through Castle Park and met five different people at different times. It was pretty obvious who was playing – a few of the people approached me to tell me where Pokémon were, and I passed the favour on to two people I saw talking about one I’d just caught.

4. The more difficult something is to achieve; the more desirable it is

The scarcity effect plays a huge role in the hype around the rarest Pokémon. Whether it’s a water or land type or a region of the world, the more difficult and exclusive they are to catch, the more value and desire we put on them. You’d have some serious rep for catching a Mr. Mime for example, which is one of the five world region specific Pokémon.

Let’s not forget the infamous app bugs that stopped the game from loading, lags in Pokémon catching, the overall battery killer and some of the general UX navigational issues. Although these bugs were hugely frustrating to its users, it aided the feeling of ‘I went through all this pain, so it has to be good’. It’s a testimony to the addictiveness of the app, as its millions of users were willing to work past the whole mountain of bugs to simply play the game!

Key takeaways on the UX of Pokémon Go

  • Randomise the rate you deliver rewards to your customers to maximize use patterns. What behaviour patterns do your users have with your product/service and how can you deliver rewards to them to enhance that pattern?
  • Addictiveness is built upon rewards that your users actually need and want. Pokémon trainers want to be the very best and catch them all. What do your customers really want?
  • Although true mastery can never really be reached, always allow your users to set goals and show how they are progressing towards them – this makes your product or service far more compelling to attempt to complete.
  • Intrinsic rewards will resonate with your customers far more than any extrinsic reward. Connect with them or allow them to connect with others on a personal level and your product will survive once all the hype has worn off.

This article was written by Jess Carver, Junior User Experience Specialist at The Real Adventure Unlimited, and first appeared on The Real Adventure Unlimited website.